Year 5, Issue 5
"Just a little drink from your loving cup,
Just a little drink and I fall down drunk."
-The Rolling Stones
Welcome to issue 5.5 of The Cup. I'm grooving to some cool tunes, enjoying the cool night air that's sweeping through my study window. Although a recent weeklong sojourn south through the Carolinas and Georgia still lingers with a colorful freshness in my mind, I am excited to be back in the basin. Shorebirds are on the move! Yee-haw! With a little luck maybe one of us can catch Geo or at least give him a good scare. And what's up with McIlroy??? Butler will be exiting the stage soon leaving Kevin with a good lead followed not too distantly by at least five serious contenders. Who knows what inversion might topple expectations if Bill Evans ever submits his totals? Someone's got to jump in there and make a push. Who's it gonna be? As far as the David Cup is concerned, we can't forget about those come from behind ornithologists, those lazies who are so good they sit around their office all day doing who knows what, make an occasional trip to see a rarity when one happens to pop up, and then come fall migration, pull out their tricks and get their ticks. (Oh no, I'm not talking about you! I'm talking about the other guys). Whatever happens, it's bound to be hot! So get out there and find those birds! (Then get to a phone and give me a call).
A gathering of Cuppers: Not very long ago under cloudy skies did gather a host of folks. Attracted by free beer, free live music and free food they came to the Danby abode of the editor-in-chief whose lovely wife did a party devise afore her temporary move south. Bill Evans was caught on film grilling mushrooms (those were just portabellas, right?). Matt Medler appeared in his Cup T-shirt (although he got a bit chilly). Meena, Young and Geo kept the bird talk going strong while Fambrough kept mostly to his guitar (he can't keep up with the bird talk anyway). After many weary party-goers departed, the Cuppers stayed on, enjoying the cool night air, speculations on fall migration and the outcome of this year's competition. What a pleasure it was to get these good folks together. Listen to the David Cup grapevine for another gathering coming next month.
Southbound: While David Cup contenders may have been looking forward to and enjoying the seasons first cold fronts (and the birds that come with them), hoping for Baird's, perhaps an early Am Golden Plover or Godwit, perhaps even Buff-breasted or a Phalarope species or two, Dianna and I traveled south into the hot, humid coastal plains of South Carolina and Georgia. A little ways northwest of Charleston we walked the boardwalk through the largest virgin Bald Cypress / Tupelo swamp on earth (the Francis Beidler Forest in Four Holes Swamp). Ticking as we went Prothonotary, Hooded and more Parulas than, well... to borrow a phrase from Young, "the place is thick with 'em." Several of the Cypress trees are over 1000 years old. Towering thick above the tannin infused water, their "knees" reaching four and five feet high, looking dark and strange and truly awesome. Later that same day we sorrowed over skins and mounted examples of Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Carolina Parakeet, Passenger Pigeon, Bachman's Warbler and Heath Hen (exhibited in the Charleston Museum). Other SC birds (live ones) included Loggerhead Shrike, Painted Bunting, Mississippi Kite and Summer Tanager. Unfortunately time restrictions kept us from trying for Red-cockaded Woodpecker or Bachman's Sparrow, two of my top three targets, (Florida Scrub Jay being the third, which we also had to miss!).
Farther south, on the barrier island and state park named Jekyll Island, we watched Royal and Sandwich Terns, with an occasional, dark billed Common Tern giving us momentary excitement. Sanderlings ran the surf as did a few Least Sandpipers and Wilson's Plovers. Along the Intracoastal Waterway low tide offered mudflats to Whimbrels and Semipalmated Plovers. A sheltered and mosquito infested pond harbored Anhingas, herons, egrets and Wood Storks. Being as far as we were out of the basin, I used discretion and only counted the life birds for my David Cup list. Dianna remains in Florida for the semester, which means I'll be a bit freer for birding. See you at Mays!
A MUCKRACE WORKOUT
by Matt Medler
Ahh--the dog days of summer, one of the few times during the year when Cuppers' thoughts might turn to things other than birds. If you've become a bit of a slacker lately, exerting just enough effort for a drive-by tick of Sedge Wren, don't look now, but the Montezuma Muckrace is quickly approaching. That's right- the Basin's second-most prestigious birding competition, the 21-hour Muckrace marathon, is only about a month away. While some might look at a Muckrace victory as a quick and easy way to make up for an otherwise lackluster year of birding (see Bill Evans), serious Cup contenders know that the Muckrace is merely a stepping stone on the way to the grand prize of David Cup immortality. The Muckrace offers the opportunity to add some quality birds (e.g., Philadelphia Vireo, a host of shorebirds, and those elusive marsh birds) to your year list, but if you think you can just suddenly pick up your binoculars and clean up on these birds, you've got another thing coming. This Big Day is a test of physical fitness as well as birding skill, so if you're going to compete, you better be in shape. I present to you, then, the Montezuma Muckrace Workout, to help "pump you up."
This carefully designed training regimen focuses on four key disciplines: Lifting, Running, Biking, and Swimming.
Over the course of a Muckrace, you could lift your binoculars hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Are your biceps ready for that? I didn't think so. Start pumping those binocs now, beginning with 50 curls a day the first week, and eventually doing 200 curls per workout right before the Big Day. And let's not forget about those big scopes, either. If you tried to snatch and lift a Swarovski/Bogen setup right now, after taking it easy all summer, you'd be liable to put your back out. Start off slowly, lifting the scope and tripod separately at first. Then, after two weeks, mount the scope on the tripod, and work on benching the entire unit.
Sprinting is the major focus here, although I was a member of a Goatsucker team that employed a "jog and spish" strategy for quickly covering the Esker Brook Trail during the inaugural Muckrace. When somebody finds your team's only Ovenbird of the day a little ways down the trail from where you are, you want to be there instantly. Competition rules state that teammates must remain within shouting distance of each other at all times, so you should never be more than about 50 yards from the rest of your team (or 100 yards if Matt "vociferus" Young happens to be one of your teammates). How fast can you run the 50-yard dash? Matt Williams set the modern day Muckrace record last year, covering the distance from the Mays Point Pool parking lot to the observation platform in 5.9 seconds, allowing him plenty of time to see the Peregrine Falcon that zoomed past the corral. In my mind, Sapsucker Woods is the perfect place to practice your sprints. Not only does it offer a variety of running surfaces that you are likely to encounter on the Muckrace (dirt, wood chip, grass, mud, boardwalk, and pavement), but it is also one of those rare places where running with binoculars is not likely to raise too many eyebrows. I recommend visiting the Lab twice a week for the next four weeks, spending 15 minutes per visit on each running surface. And don't forget- while traditional sprinting focuses heavily on starting technique, bird sprinting adds another consideration to the mix: stopping.
Despite the logistical complications of outfitting an entire team, bicycles can add another whole element to a Muckrace unit. Covering Howland Island by bike was the key to the Goatsuckers' glorious tie for first place in the 1998 Muckrace (although I think the Sapsuckers' famed inability to count correctly might have also had something to do with the three-way tie for first that year). Howland Island alone has 15+ miles of trails and roads, so the thing on which to focus in your training is endurance. High speed is actually not desirable, since it makes it difficult (if not impossible) to pick up chip notes and other signs of bird life. Any of the local hills (Connecticut, Hammond, Beam) seem like good places to work on your off-road biking and birding technique. Finally, for a truly advanced workout, try biking at night. Traveling on bike last year, Team Matt picked up three species of owls on Howland Island- at four in the morning. This year's competitors should have the benefit of a mostly full moon.
Hey, you laugh, but it works. Just ask Matt Williams how he identified his life Black Scoter off the coast of New England last year. If you think you might have a Purple Gallinule in one of the big ponds on Howland Island, but you just can't quite make it out in your scope, you better be ready to strip down and swim after it. What stroke, you might be asking? Birding/fitness guru Ryan Bakelaar recommends the breaststroke, "so that you can always keep your eyes on the bird." The Stewart Park area often offers conditions similar to the mucky waters of Montezuma. Hit the park twice a week, swimming the length of the park four times per visit, or until you start to turn green.
BACK ROADS IN THE LIFE OF A NOCTURNAL FLIGHT CALL REASEARCHER
- Part I -
by Bill Evans
Well, it is midnight, I'm leaving for Wisconsin in the morning, and I promised Ben that I'd get him a piece for The Cup before I left. I've just come
into my warehouse office in downtown Ithaca to write a few words instead of going to a luxury apartment where I am house sitting an awesome cat that eagerly awaits my company and where I would have been able to veg in front of late night Saturday cable TV - I haven't had a TV in three years so I look forward to the occasional binge of viewing. But the Cup comes first! Meanwhile, I've got a remaining Amazon and Borneo rainforest to explore, ten years of night flight call tapes that need listening to, and a recalcitrant broadcast and communications industry to deal with.
I WAS able to get my act together and get a remote recording station up on Conn Hill tonight - another beautiful night on the hill. Of course, I got up there and wasn't properly prepared. I had the microphone and the VCR but I forgot a metal rod and wire with which to ground the whole electric system so errant electromagnetic waves wouldn't contaminate my recordings. I panicked for a moment, lamented at the thought of having to drive all the way to Ithaca and back, and then without question decided to break off the antenna on my recently purchased used Dodge pickup and strip the plastic off an extra RCA cable I had. I drove the former antenna into the ground and connected the serendipitous copper wire to the now ground rod and the VCR. Having successfully achieved the all important electrical ground, all this while a woodcock is making regular passes overhead, I kicked back and opened a Fosters Lager and enjoyed the quiet of the night interspersed with occasional night sounds: the fall ratchet call of the Wood Frog, two migrant Veerys enroute to southern Brazil, a Barred Owl, a flying squirrel, a deer snort, and several unknown mammalish sounds.
The whole reason I'm up on the hill tonight is to get a sample of night flight calls from mid-August for the purpose of ascertaining the night flight call of Mourning Warbler (Oporornis philadelphia). After figuring out all the others, or at least putting them into a species complex, Mourning is the one expected migrant over central NY that I've never heard. Of course, recording here over ten years, I have some unknown call-types that I speculate might be Mourning and tonight I am trying to pinpoint whether Mourning is mindbogglingly similar, but discernable, from Yellow-rumped's "tseep".
Indeed, the derivation of this hunch is a rather long twisted tale. Early on in my night flight call quest I had met David Sibley who, if you don't already know of him, will be a birding household name in a few months. His new field guide is due out in October. We met on the Blue Nose Ferry to Nova Scotia in about 1987. Upon telling him about my interest in night flight calls he mentioned that Will Russell, one of the cofounders of Wings (the international bird tour company), could identify Canada Warbler's night flight call. This story became a piton in my trek up the night flight call mountain for many years until I finally discerned Canada and even pointed out its potential confusion with Wilson's for the first time, ironically, on Will Russell's listserv ID Frontiers. Anyway, now that I know Canada, I can look back and see that in spring 1990, a year after quitting my technician job at LNS under the rule of Tyrannus budnei, I was ardently studying night flight calls in southern Alabama when a fortuitous encounter occurred. My camp was based 150 miles north of the Gulf and when cold fronts were approaching the I'd drive down to the coast in hopes of catching a fallout of transgulf migrants. One such day I'd been birding all morning and was chatting with a birder named Mike Hughes who had driven down for the fallout from Atlanta. We were comparing notes when a car pulled up and a guy rolled down the window and asked us what we had been seeing. We chatted for quite awhile before something started to click for me; something in the guy's voice. I told him, "You are not going to believe this. But I think I know who you are." It was Ted Parker and I had recognized his voice from the hours of his annotated audiotapes I had catalogued while working at LNS. We had actually talked on the phone several times while I was working on his collection. It was Easter Weekend, I think he was just back from Peru, and he and his wife were down visiting her family. They were just down to the coast for a few hours of birding. A few weeks later, frustrated with the night flight call situation in Alabama, I had moved my recording operation to western Louisiana at a place called Toledo Bend Reservoir. After one long night of recording I decided to drive down to the Louisiana coast for possible fallout. Exhausted, I thought I'd find a motel first and then do some birding.
I pulled into the first motel I found in Cameron, LA and there in the parking lot were Ted Parker and his wife. They had just checked in and were down for the Louisiana Ornithological Society meeting. I checked in and we all headed out for some birding. This was my first time birding with the legendary Parker. While working at LNS I had heard stories about his immense knowledge of bird sounds and he had become an idol for me. Anyway, I was a little nervous at first and at one stop a short dry call note emanated from a small 3-ft. high bush in front of us. Black-throated Green Parker said. To me the habitat didn't seem right and I thought the call was probably a Yellowthroat. I questioned that I thought it might be a Yellowthroat and Ted again said he had thought it was Black-throated Green. Soon a Black-throated Green Warbler popped out and gave its dry "chek" note. I had been faked out by the habitat and was humbled. Later, a group of birders came sweeping by in the heat of a big day. One was our own Ken Rosenberg. This was about three years before Ken came to the Lab but I had met him a few times while he had been at the Lab visiting. We all chatted briefly then we left the big dayers and went on to a magical place called the Blue Woods, an oak-laden chenier (barrier island) &endash; the rancher that owned it allowed birders in and today was one of those magic days as we came upon some birders who had just discovered Louisiana's first record Red-faced Warbler. We all got great looks. A very strange weather system had dumped a bunch of western vagrants into south coastal Louisiana the night before and the birding adrenaline was electric. After birding all-day we went out for dinner and then back to the motel to listen to tapes of night flight calls. I had a bunch of unknowns that I was eager to get Ted's opinion on. This is where my journey to decipher Mourning warbler night flight call really started. Stay tuned for part II and hopefully the conclusion in a future issue of The Cup.
ˆˆˆˆˆ THE NEXT NEW BASIN BIRDS ˆˆˆˆˆ
By Matt Medler
This month marks the start of a new five-part series in The Cup, in which we will profile ten species of birds that Cayuga Lake Basin experts believe to be the most likely additions to the Basin checklist. The idea to predict the next new Basin birds may sound familiar to readers of the American Birding Association's Birding because it was inspired completely by the series in Birding entitled "The Next New ABA Birds." (The ABA series premiered in the December 1998 issue of Birding, continues to appearing in issues of that publication.)
In order to compile a list of the Top 10 new Basin birds, I assembled an all-star panel of some of the best birders in the Basin--visionaries with a detailed knowledge of bird distribution in the Cayuga Lake Basin, New York State, and beyond. This esteemed group includes Bill Evans, Steve Kelling, Kevin McGowan, Tom Nix, Ken Rosenberg, Chris Tessaglia-Hymes, Jeff Wells, and Matt Young. Each panel member submitted a ranked list of the ten birds that they feel are most likely to be the next new species to be found in the Basin. The checklist that served as the current Basin list is a modified version of McIlroy and Smith's "Birds of the Cayuga Lake Basin" checklist, with the following additions: Anhinga, Thayer's Gull, Ross's Gull, and Brewer's Blackbird. This list can be viewed here.
Once I received all eight lists, I assigned point values to each pick, with a top pick (most likely) receiving 10 points, and a 10th place pick receiving one point. Thus, the maximum score that a bird can receive is 80 points. We begin the series this month by featuring the tenth and ninth-highest vote-getters, and we will wrap up the series in December with the two birds most likely to be the next additions to the Cayuga Lake Basin avifauna.
Boreal Owl (3 votes, 17 points)
This small owl is usually a permanent resident of dense coniferous forest, mixed coniferous-hardwood forest, or muskeg throughout northern North America, as well as across northern Asia and Europe, where it is known as Tengmalm's Owl (AOU 1998). During certain years, however, Boreal Owls show irruptive behavior, with individuals found far south of the species' normal range. The largest irruption on record occurred in the winter of 1922-1923, when 26 specimens were taken to a taxidermist in New Hampshire, 30 were taken to a Maine taxidermist, and apparently 30 specimens were taken in Massachusetts (Veit and Petersen 1993). The highest number of Boreal Owls reported in New York State during any one season is three, during the winter of 1978-1979 (Yunick 1979). Altogether, Yunick accepted 21 records of this bird for the period 1878-1979. Of these 21 records, seven are from the southern shore of Lake Ontario, with five records from Monroe County and two from Oswego County. While the high number of western New York records is encouraging, it is worth noting that there are no western NY records from south of the lakeshore. There are, however, two records from the lower Hudson Valley, and even one record from the south shore of Long Island! And, even further south, there is one accepted record from New Jersey (Walsh et al. 1999) and one from southwestern Pennsylvania (McWilliams and Brauning 2000). Between 1979 and 1996, there was only one additional record of Boreal Owl in New York State, in the winter of 1991-1992 (Levine 1998). During this same year, six birds were reported from Massachusetts (Veit and Petersen 1993).
There is some sentiment among the Basin birders who voted for this species that it has already occurred in the Basin, but that it has been overlooked due to its small size and nocturnal habits, combined with a lack of observer effort. As Minnesotan Bill Evans writes, "Boreal Owl probably occurs in the Basin (Summer Hill, etc.) at least once a decade." Matt Young adds that the species has probably gone undocumented in the Basin because of its status as "a rare and secretive bird throughout its range." So, how are we to detect this small, elusive bird when it is in our midst? Well, we could get lucky and have one appear one winter in a conspicuous place in Ithaca, much like the Boreal Owl that spent the winter of 1996-1997 in downtown Boston, thrilling hundreds of birders. (Go to http://larsonweb.org/birds/dlbowl1.html for a close-up photo of this bird.) Evans predicts a more likely scenario: "Dedicated listening during warm February nights during invasion years will turn this bird up within the next decade."
Pacific Loon (2 votes, 18 points)
Although this species received fewer votes than Boreal Owl, it claimed ninth place on the basis of a first place vote (Ken Rosenberg) and a third place vote (Jeff Wells). Despite its name, Pacific Loon breeds as far east as northwestern Quebec and Ontario (southern Hudson Bay), with the breeding range extending west across the northern Canadian territories and Alaska to eastern Siberia (AOU 1998). In North America, the bird's typical range in winter is along the Pacific coast from Alaska south to Baja California and Sonora. However, there are now reports "practically every year" from Massachusetts and other states along the Atlantic, with the majority of these records coming during the winter months (Veit and Petersen 1993). Despite this abundance of reports, there is no Massachusetts specimen, nor a photograph that adequately documents the species for that state. In New York State, Bull (1974) reported one specimen of an adult male in breeding plumage from Long Island, April 29, 1893. Bull also accepted three sight records- two from Lake Ontario and one from Long Island. These birds were all breeding-plumaged birds; Bull did not accept any reports of birds in non-breeding plumage because of the difficulties in separating Pacific Loons from Red-throated Loons or small Common Loons. At the time of Bull (1974), Pacific Loon was considered a subspecies of the very similar-appearing Arctic Loon, but the two species have since been split, adding another challenge to the identification of Pacific Loons.
Since 1974, the New York State Avian Records Committee has accepted three additional sight records of Pacific Loon: two birds in breeding plumage from late April/early May (one from Long Island, and another from Lake Ontario), and one non-breeding plumaged bird, from December 1991. Elsewhere in the East, there are over 30 reports from New Jersey, with seven accepted by the New Jersey Bird Records Committee (five from fall/winter, 1 from spring, and one summer record). Inland, there are three records from Pennsylvania: two breeding-plumaged birds (one from late April, the other from June) and one juvenile bird from late fall.
With a sizable migration of thousands of loons (almost all Common Loons) over Cayuga Lake each fall, it is not unreasonable to think that a Pacific Loon would pass through the Basin along with its larger cousins. In fact, Ken Rosenberg says, "...Pacific Loon is to be expected eventually. The most likely scenario will also be the toughest one to document -- a small loon bombing over with Commons at the Loon Watch, that does not appear to be white-necked with an upturned bill ("What else could it have been?"). As Ken points out, such a sighting would be difficult to document, not to mention probably beyond the abilities of us mere mortal birders. A much more satisfying (and documentable) sighting would be of a breeding-plumaged bird in late spring (the last week of April or first week of May seems the most likely time, based on the Pennsylvania and Lake Ontario records). Along these lines, Ken adds, "...I'll settle for a breeding-plumaged beauty in a late April fallout on Dryden Lake."
Finding rarities is not usually that easy, though, so what about a third scenario--finding a non-breeding plumaged bird on Cayuga Lake in the fall or winter. What exactly separates a Pacific Loon from Red-throated, Common, and Arctic Loons? Identification guru Rosenberg writes: "In my experience picking out rare Pacific Loons in Arizona, the best marks (on the water at a distance) are the contrasting patterns on the neck and head -- specifically, the eye is surrounded by dark (compared with a white ring extending up around the eye in Commons and a very white face extending up past the eye in Red-throated), and the dark area extends down the side of the neck, forming a crisp contrast with the white throat. In addition, many Pacifics show a silvery sheen to the hindneck area, so the combination of white throat, dark side of the neck and silvery hindneck can be quite striking. Pacifics also sometimes show a white flank spot above the water line -- although this is even more pronounced in Arctic, (and is a field mark for separating Arctic from Pacific) it can be useful for picking out a distant Pacific on the water as well."
American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, Kansas.
Bull, J. 1974. Birds of New York State. Doubleday/Natural History Press, Garden City,NY. [Reprinted by Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY, 1985.]
Levine, E., ed. 1998. Bull's Birds of New York State. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
McWilliams, G. and D. Brauning. 2000. The Birds of Pennsylvania. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
Veit, R. and W. Petersen. 1993. Birds of Massachusetts. Natural History of New England Series. Massachusetts Audubon Society, Lincoln, MA.
Walsh, J., V. Elia, R Kane, and T. Halliwell. 1999. Birds of New Jersey. New Jersey Audubon Society.
Yunick, R. P. 1979. A review of New York State Boreal Owl records. Kingbird 29:181-189.
By Matt Sarver
A few weeks ago, while perusing the dusty contents of the bird shelf at a small used bookstore near my home in Pennsylvania, noting mostly the same titles I remembered seeing there the previous year, I picked up a diminutive, very old volume titled, "A Year With the Birds." The book listed neither date nor author, but appeared to be from around the turn of the century, or slightly earlier. I opened to the description of the Whip-poor-will, expecting the sort of quaint anthropomorphic banter typical of popular (and even much scientific) ornithological literature of the time period. What I found was not the bucolic romanticism that I expected, but the author's frank admission that in order to be enjoyed the Whip-poor-will's song must be heard from a considerable distance. In other words, if you're too close to a Whip-poor-will, they're damned annoying....
Although this species can be a bit of a nuisance if you're within Matt Young shouting distance of it, that sentiment is not conducive to the sort of idyllic image that most writers have been inclined to portray. Last month we dealt with the "dark side" of the Whip-poor-will, the goatsucker myth, as related by Plath. This month we will examine another popular image of the bird, the lonesome singer. Two important components of this latter portrayal of the Whip-poor-will are, (1) personification of the bird, and (2) a primary focus on the singer, rather than the song itself. These distinctions will become important when we compare the "lonesome singer" image with other, less fanciful images next month.
The persona of the Whip-poor-will in popular literature has consistently been that of a lone, solemn, mournful singer, that instills in his sweet song a profound sadness, the source of which is not usually speculated upon. Examples of this type can be found in the lyrics of many songs, such as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," by Hank Williams:
Hear the lonesome whip-poor-will.
He sounds too blue to fly.
The midnight train is whining low.
I'm so lonesome I could cry.
We find a similar reference in J. F. Cooper's Last of the Mohicans:
At length, however, the mournful notes of a whip-poor-will became
blended with the moanings of an owl; his heavy eyes occasionally sought
the bright rays of the stars...
It may be argued that the Whip-poor-will's song does not contain any particular qualities that would cause the singer to be portrayed as sad or mournful. Its clear repeated whistle lacks the beautiful flute-like tone of the thrushes, or even the haunting resonance of many of the owls. There seems to be little evidence that Whips are heard calling singly more often than any other species. Why then, does folk literature consistently depict this bird as sad and lonely? Certainly, several aspects of the bird's natural history (nocturnal habits, crepuscular singing, avoidance of human habitation) might contribute to this image, as Susan Fennimore Cooper suggests in her 1887 book, Rural Hours:
Thursday, 14th. The whip-poor-wills are now heard every evening, from some particular points on the skirts of the village. They arrive here about the first week in May, and continue their peculiar nocturnal note until towards the last of June: "most musical, most melancholy" of night-sounds known in our region. From some houses on the bank of the lake and near the river, they are heard every night; probably the sound comes over the water from the wooded hills beyond, for they are said to prefer high and dry situations. Once in a while, but not very frequently, they come into the village, and we have heard them when they must have been in our own grounds. It is only natural, perhaps, that some lingering shade of superstition should be connected with this singular bird&endash;so often heard, so seldom seen; thousands of men and women in this part of the world have listened to the soft wailing whistle, from childhood to old age, through every summer of a long life, without having once laid their eyes on the bird. Until quite lately, almost every one believed the night-hawk and the whip-poor-will to be the same, merely because the first is often seen by daylight, while the last, which much resembles it, is wholly nocturnal, and only known to those who search for him in the shady woods by day, or meet him by moonlight at night. These birds will soon cease serenading; after the third week in June, they are rarely heard, in which respect they resemble the nightingale, who sings only for a few weeks in May and June; early in September, they go to the southward. Forty years since, they are said to have been much more numerous here than they are to-day.
Paradoxically, the mournful notes of the Whip-poor-will are quite often described as being sweet or pleasant to listen to, as in this poem by Oliver Goldsmith:
Or, when the Summer's dry and sultry sun
Adown the West his fiery course has run;
When o'er the vale his parting rays of light
Just linger, ere they vanish into night,
How sweet to wander round the wood-bound lake,
Whose glassy stillness scarce the zephyrs wake;
How sweet to hear the murmuring of the rill,
As down it gurgles from the distant hill;
The note of Whip-poor-Will how sweet to hear,
When sadly slow it breaks upon the ear,
And tells each night, to all the silent vale,
The hopeless sorrows of its mournful tale.
Dear lovely spot! Oh may such charms as these,
Sweet tranquil charms, that cannot fail to please,
Forever reign around thee, and impart
Joy, peace, and comfort to each native heart.
The footnote goes on to describe the "wild and mournful cadence of its note," adding that "the traveler [sic] listens with delight to the repeated tale of its sorrows." The reader is left wondering how much of this melodramatic extravagance stems from real emotion generated by the bird, and how much is only more of the same literary ostentation representative of 19th-century rural tales. The Whip-poor-will as represented by the "lonesome singer" image seems to lack any real substance, as well as any sound basis for its traditional description in this manner. We are left with an oft-used but hollow image that does little justice to the real creature, other than to evoke a sense of pity that has perhaps helped dispel the darker image of the goatsucker. The greatest value of the "lonesome singer" portrayal of the Whip-poor-will is in its ability to reflect the nostalgic fascination with rural life that surfaced during and after the industrial revolution. The poems and songs devoted to its plight are as much about our own longing for the quaint charms of the countryside, as they are about the bird itself.
Next month: The final installment of our Whip-poor-will discussion, including readings from Thoreau.
!!!!!!!!!! HIGHLIGHTS !!!!!!!!!!
By Matt Williams
With many reports of birds fledging this month, it is obvious that birding wasn't quite as productive as the birds themselves. However, a few key species that hadn't yet been added to the basin composite were located.
The first development was Mr. Young's Long-eared Owl that he had while covering his atlas blocks up at Summer Hill State Forest on the 6th. This time he heard it well enough to be certain. Another exciting possible breeder was the Bay-breasted Warbler that Meena Haribal found on Connecticut hill on the 9th. Acadian Flycatchers continued to haunt us, just outside the basin boundaries. While the "traditional" spots at Salmon Creek had not produced any, on the 10th Chris Tessaglia-Hymes found one along a tributary on the opposite (west) side of the creek. Subsequent outings noted at least two birds along the stream. Chris then observed an obviously ostentatious family of Orchard Orioles out in Ovid on the 11th. A few days after inquiring about the mysterious disappearance of Fish Crows in the Ithaca area, Kevin McGowan heard a singing Sedge Wren along Freese Rd. in Dryden on the 20th. One more Sedge Wren was found the next day by Kevin and Jay in the same field and almost certainly another individual was heard at midnight from the "Henslow's Sparrow spot" along Burdick Hill Rd.
While both Cuckoos and other breeders continued near the south end of the lake, the end of the month's birding activity was certainly at Montezuma. Meena and Ben found some breeding plumaged Stilt Sandpipers along with 10 other shorebird species on the 23rd at Benning Marsh. Then, on the same day, Ben had 2 Common Terns over Tschache. Ben returned to the Tschache tower on the 26th and had an immature Forster's Tern. Allison & Jeff Wells, the former cup editors, went to Montezuma on the 29th of July and saw 12 Black Terns flying over the wildlife drive.
Back towards Ithaca, Marty Schlabach had a Hooded Warbler on his porch on the 28th and a Ruby Throated Hummingbird in his garage. Thus far, there have been no reports any pelagic species in Marty's bathtub. Hopefully it remains that way.
"...churning and burning they yearn for The Cup..." (Cake)
July 2000 David Cup Totals
235 Geo Kloppel
230 Ben Fambrough
226 Tom Nix
222 Chris Tessaglia-Hymes
219 Matt Williams
215 Kevin McGowan
215 Matt Medler
212 Meena Haribal
212 Jay McGowan
207 Chris Butler
202 Ken Rosenberg
197 Matt Young
195 Jeff Wells
190 Allison Wells
179 Melanie Uhlir
178 Bard Prentiss
167 Anne Kendall
165 John Fitzpatrick
151 Nancy Dickinson
148 Marty Schlabach
122 Jon Kloppel
122 Jim Lowe
122 Tringa McGowan
99 Catherine Sandell
78 Swift the Cat
75 Perri McGowan
Ken Rosenberg's 200th Bird: Red-headed Woodpecker (we didn't plan this or anything, did we Ken?)
July 2000 McIlroy Award Totals
151 Chris Butler
144 Kevin McGowan
134 Jay McGowan
127 Ken Rosenberg
122 Allison Wells
117 Matt Williams
110 Jim Lowe
110 Jeff Wells
July 2000 Evans Trophy Totals
197 Ken Rosenberg
168 Kevin McGowan
167 Jay McGowan
155 Bard Prentiss
130 John Fitzpatrick
127 Ken Rosenberg
121 McGowan/Kline Family
102 Geo Kloppel and Pat Lia
96 Nancy Dickinson
68 Tom Fredericks and family
60 Melanie Uhlir
44 Jeff and Allison Wells
37 Melanie Uhlir
22 Allison Wells
146 Matt Williams
136 Kevin McGowan
COMPOSITE DEPOSIT AND LEADER'S LIST
To view what's been seen and heard in the Basin this year, as well as what (if anything) Geo hasn't seen, click here.
THE CUP TALKS TO GEO
THE CUP: It's been a little while since our last interview...
KLOPPEL: Uh-oh, do I see The Cup coming around again? That thing has more lives than a Maine Coon!
THE CUP: You ain't gonna call out your dawgs, are ya mister? 'Cause this Maine Coon has a nasty bite. It's been known to steal a fist full of totals while biting' the leader on his arse! Despite the lateness of this unofficial newsletter, everyone knows you still hold a comfortable lead, yet I wonder: with a few big guns finished or finishing summer travel and two of the formidable Matts due back this weekend. It seems that fall could be really exciting for the competition and keep the Cup leader on his toes (or at least in his Volvo!).
KLOPPEL: I hope to see a good share of whatever neat birds the "big guns" discover. My car's odometer reads over 214,000 miles. I may already have driven enough David Cup miles since 1996 to encircle the planet, and yes, that aspect makes me thoroughly dubious about the conservation value of the game, but as long as my aging 240 wagon keeps running, I'm in it. Doesn't have anything to do with the DC competition, really.
THE CUP: You still seem to be pretty hardcore, not slacking a bit. I mean you were all over the Acadians last month...
KLOPPEL: I worked pretty hard for Acadian Flycatcher this year, checking the old Salmon Creek spot a number of times in the spring and searching former Acadian sites, plus every likely-looking ravine in my Atlas blocks, which span the southernmost limits of the basin, but the only Acadians I encoutered (3 in all) were solidly outside of the watershed. So I posted both my disappointments and my extralimital successes. The indirect payoff for all this effort was that Chris phoned me the same evening he found the bird at Lansingville, asking whether it was indeed the first of the year in the basin. And that's how I came to be on location at 5am the following morning. I figured I had a countable Acadian Flycatcher coming to me, but I also knew that the season was getting late. Other Acadians of my acquaintance had already stopped their daytime singing, so it would be best to arrive in time for the dawn chorus. And so it proved! Others who visited the site at 7 or 8 am on subsequent days went away disappointed.
I wish that something similar could have been accomplished with Prothonotary Warbler. It seems quite possible to me that somewhere in the Clyde River / Seneca River corridor a pair of Prothonotary Warblers might have nested this year - there are miles and miles of scarcely visited habitat. But if they were there, we never found them. The longer I persist at this basin birding game, the more amazed I become that we find as much as we do. For all the hype about ours being the "fastest growing hobby", and for all the money that birders are supposed to be pouring into the economy, birders of the sort who range widely in search of the unusual birds are spread very thinly.
THE CUP: Perhaps...There are so many varieties of birders. Alas, I think we are still outnumbered by both developers and industry of many kinds. Yet I digress. More recently you went right after that unlikely Godwit.
KLOPPEL: That was just coincidence. I began stopping at May's Point (who was this May, does anyone know?) even before the drain-down began, but I hadn't been finding much that was worthy of special reporting. Or maybe I was just getting a little too blase'. I did work up some excitement about Night Herons, but even on that occasion I just neglected to mention that we also glimpsed two Soras in the same spot.
THE CUP: Neglect to post is not a practice we associate with you, Mr. Kloppel. Rosenberg, maybe. Try not to let that happen again.
KLOPPEL: Then, the morning after the unidentified Godwit was reported, I happened to stop by the corral. There was nothing too special there, but I figured some folks would be wondering whether they ought to head up there after work for a shot at the unseasonal Godwit, so I made a point of mentioning that I hadn't seen it.
THE CUP: For such a mellow guy, you've got the intensity level cranked.
KLOPPEL: ... (twiddles his thumbs) ...
THE CUP: That's very cute, Geo. My wife would like that. Will you be participating in the Muckrace? I know the Cayuga Bird Club Team is courting you.
KLOPPEL: As some folks will remember, I missed out on the Muckrace last year because my band had a gig the same day. This is an annual gig that we've played for years, and the date pre-selected for the present year was September 16th, same day again as the Muckrace. But our guitar / mandolin / clarinet player Tom Gajewski has just moved to Massachussetts, so it looks like the tradition is coming to an end. I'm sorry about that, because it was such a fun gig, a barn dance with the inimitable Vicky Armstrong as caller. For those who don't know her, here's a snapshot: at a recent friday night contradance which happened to coincide with the Queen Mother's 100th birthday, our Canadian caller arrived wearing a black dress, white gloves, and a smart little pink hat. The royal wave from the stage was memorable, but the sight of Vicky doing the Charleston in that outfit, even while calling-out the figures for the contra sets, was so marvelous that I nearly dropped my fiddle in the middle of The Waterburg Swing. To think that I may not continue to have such experiences in the future, oh! it makes me so sad!
Anyway, that leaves me free for the Muckrace, I guess. Not that a so-so birder like me could ever fill the shoes of last year's luminaries...
THE CUP: I got to tell you, Geo. I may be on a team this year and I feel exactly the same way. They were awesome. Got any favorite or off-the-beaten-track spots at Montezuma?
KLOPPEL: Well, yeah, but are you gonna be on my team? The grand old Muckrace tradition of ...oh, shall we call it "discretion"? ... can not be lightly tossed aside, even if it _is_ roundly criticized year after year.
THE CUP: Without trying to predict rarities, what are the next species you might tick?
KLOPPEL: You have to provide a more reliable release date for this publication if you want an answer to that kind of question. In this season of rapid change, I expect that many of the species I could list will actually turn up before The Cup goes down the wires. So I won't list the birds I expect to find just around the next bend.
THE CUP: You're assuming we're actually going to use this interview! And let me remind you: we're in keeping with a "grand old tradition" ourselves, set by Ms. Wells way back when. And, if it please the court, I might add that the contributing editors have as much to do with the lateness of The Cup as it's editor-in-chief! (Help me out here, Allison...) Anyway, surely there are birds you'll be looking out for?
KLOPPEL: Later in the year I'll be looking out for a Goshawk. I got word on where they bred in the basin this year, but it was just a little too late, a couple of weeks after they would have fledged, and I couldn't locate the dependent family. So I'll have to pin my hopes on the fall migration. Lincoln's Sparrow deserves an effort. I might have the leisure to target Dickcissel. Sandhill Crane? Black Scoter is missing from my list. Crossbills? Snowy Owl?
THE CUP: At a recent gathering of Cuppers I overheard a conversation that spoke the number 250! Of course, you've got a shot. That would be quite an achievement.
KLOPPEL: Let's put this in its proper perspective - 250 is certainly possible, but for anyone to hit that number this year would require the confluence of two big factors: 1) We'd have to have quite a good fall for rarities and/or irruptives. 2) We'd have to field a cadre of avid birders to find them and spread the word effectively. The first is surely a matter for some uncertainty, but the second is a fairly dependable product of the David Cup race and other bootstrapping tools we use to foster enthusiasm within our little community for covering the huge Cayuga basin, which by my rude estimate contains some 1,000 square miles of terrain. 250 would be quite a performance, but the real achievement would belong to the entire DC community.
THE CUP: Modest to the end. Were you atlassing in July?
KLOPPEL: A few confirmations came my way, but I wasn't really working for them.
THE CUP: Now that the season's breeding is over, is there any atlas work to be done over the next several months?
KLOPPEL: Well, there's filling out the annual data summary sheets...
THE CUP: So, you'll be spending more time keeping ahead of David Cup glory seekers?
KLOPPEL: Who can tell? I can get by on a very meager income, but not a non-existent one. I still might have to do some work this fall, and thus miss
THE CUP: Do you have a strategy for this migration season?
KLOPPEL: Nothing subtle. Make timely visits to the important spots, be prepared to launch on a moment's notice whenever good birds turn up, don't take
any vacations. Unfortunately the Crumtown Ramblers have already got a couple of reunion gigs lined up for this fall, one in Cooperstown and another in Fitchburg MA - imagine what might turn up in the basin while I'm off fooling around, playing polskas and jenkkas!
THE CUP: Could you give us those dates? (I may have to plan some intense bird searching on those days!) Finding any good mushrooms up your way?
KLOPPEL: I've recently seen Pholiota squarrosoides, Strobilomyces floccopus, Cantherellus cibarius, and of course lots of Pleurotus osteratus. Last week we held a walk on the new 103-acre addition to the Biodiversity Preserve (Beech Hill Brook), and found Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) and Helleborine (Epipactus helleborine), orchids, not mushrooms; also some really big, beautiful American Spikenards (Aralia racemosa), and other cool stuff. I saw a five-foot long Black Rat Snake a couple of days ago, and found the intact skin of another one just this morning.
THE CUP: Cool! Back to the birding for a moment before we say goodbye: if you win the David Cup, what will you do with all the money?
KLOPPEL: I've been rethinking my attitude about birding travel. Sometime in the next week or so I'm going to sit down and determine the most remote, exotic birding destination that I could possibly reach with the help of the David Cup purse, and then I'll use the prospect of actually going there to try to whip up some enthusiasm for the fall push that I'll need to make if I don't want to be overtaken again as I was in 1998.
(Subsides into a birder's reverie. Of what far-away port-of-call is he dreaming? The Owasco Inlet? Sandy Pond perhaps?)
THE CUP: A pleasure as always, Geo. Thanks for stopping by.
Tick may be more of a slacker than our other contributors. I hear from Allison that Tick will be answering your questions. So, fear not, if you've submitted a question to Tick, you will get an answer. Should you have any questions or need some advice, please contact Tick through Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org
"This morning I came face-to-face with a Black-billed Cuckoo in my hedgerow! In full sun at 30 feet it was amazing! I watched it for 10 minutes before it finally swelled its throat and let out a "cuk-cuk-cuk", which was answered by another behind me! I saw the other flitting in a tree, where the first one joined it. Cool."
-- Nancy Dickinson
"Amazing to think that Fall migration has already begun for some of our summer resident passerines. What we consider to be "Fall" and what some birds consider to be "Fall" are drastically different."
-- Chris Tessaglia-Hymes
"The Glen is da bomb! Five Acadian Flycathers"
-- Matt Young
"A vehicle with more leg than the typical sedan would be a big advantage at Benning these days. The tall vegetation along the north side of the dike does a good job of concealing the narrow strip of mud below, and that's just where most of the shorebirds were while I was there. ... Maybe I ought to get a sunroof?"
"Standard procedure for us at Benning is the passenger (almost always Jay) scoping out his window, and the driver sitting out the window, leaning on the roof (a bunched up jacket or towel makes a passable scope rest). Perhaps that would give the height Geo seeks. Wouldn't mind a little mowing along the road, though."
"I suppose that I _have_ been a little inflexible. Not in respect to acrobatics, mind you - I don't balk at climbing trees or setting up my tripod while standing on the roof of my car, if there's a view to be had - but in respect to interpreting the MNWR auto-tour injunction to "Please remain inside your vehicle", it seems that I've been rather timid! :-)
After receiving Kevin's suggestion, I went right out to the car and gave it a try. It's not bad, as long as the crowning of the roadbed tilts the car in your favor, but I can see that a roof rack would improve the geometry, give me a sturdy handle to aid climbing in and out, and even permit the addition of a stable telescope mounting bracket at the most advantageous height."
"My feet remain in the vehicle at all times. This is kind of like pool, isn't it?, where you can make nay shot as long as one foot still touches the ground. ;^)"
"Even if I follow your procedure I am sure my feet will not touch the ground (I mean bottom of my car)."
"I added a new yard bird to my list this morning. A HOODED WARBLER was inside my mostly enclosed porch. It was great to see him up close, in my hand. I wonder why he was near/in my house? Is there post-nesting movement already? He seemed pleased with his refound freedom after a few moments sitting in my open hand."
-- Marty Schlabach
"I took a futile slog through the very overgrown swamp behind my property, braving thick cattails that towered over my head and nasty razor grass that ripped my tender arms, hoping to find a goldfinch nest. No luck, but I did come across a group of three juvenile American Redstarts foraging together in the dense stands of willow and arrow-wood viburnum."
-- Marie Read
"Ben Fambrough is currently experiencing technical difficulties ..."
-- Matt Medler
It may have been noticed that last month's issue did not credit all of its articles. At least my co-editor noticed. You may just as well put his name to the whole issue. 5.4 belongs to you, Medler.
Editor-in-chief and errant southerner: Ben Fambrough
Senior and contributing editor and ideas man extraordinaire: Matt Medler
Highlights review-oologist: Matt Williams
Literary Critic: Matt Sarver
Visiting Storyteller: Bill Evans
Editor Emeritus: Allison Wells